Naruto blinked in the near darkness. What was familiar surrounding and a warm home for more than a month now seemed to slither with unnatural cold. Hinata held tight to Naruto's hand and activated her Byakugan.
"Naruto, we are not alone." She whispered.
Naruto crouched into a ready stance and moved to more dense shadows. He trusted Hinata explicitly and also knew he wanted to protect her above all things.
"Can we use Hiraishin to get out of here?" Hinata questioned nervously.
"Yeah, but can you tell if the person here has spotted us?" Naruto had many lessons from Tsunade echoing in his head.
"I don't think they have. They haven't moved from the table in the room upstairs." Hinata informed him.
"OK then the coast is clear. Let's get out of here." Naruto began to focus chakra for his technique, but before he could even think he was struck from behind.
Naruto tumbled forward, no longer holding Hinata's hand. He recovered his wits mid roll and turned to face his assailant. As he bounced into a tight crouch ready to spring at his opponent he was stopped in his tracks. To the Gennin's horror, Hinata was being held off the ground in the tight grips of the final Sannin.
"Welcome back to my laboratory." Orochimaru grinned wickedly. "I appreciate you cleaning up for me, but now i will have to repay your favor with experimentation and probably your death. Sorry."
"Let go of Hinata! Now!" The otherworldly growl that seeped into Naruto's voice let all three present know the stakes had been raised.
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!" Orochimaru cackled. "Now this is interesting. The nine tails wants to come out to play."
The snake sage produced a long thin needle and pressed it into the neck of the dangling Hyuuga girl. Hinata slumped unconscious in an instant. Orochimaru leveled a malicious gaze at Naruto as he licked the girls cheek and then tossed her like refuse to a far corner. Naruto roared and charged, a red glow enveloping him and his skin appearing to peel from the muscle.
The Sannin dodged the reckless first assault easily. the boy was blind with rage, and even in the enclosed space he couldn't land a hit. Orochimaru leaped a furious swipe of an elongated chakra claw and landed close enough to kick Naruto toward a far corner. The Sannin now stood near the center of the room with Hinata in one corner and Naruto in the opposite.
"The Kyuubi will make a fine addition to my research. Give me all your power boy!" Orochimaru taunted, long tongue lashing from his mouth on the last word.
Naruto watched impotently as the snake sage launched another long needle from his hand into the unconscious form of the young Hyuuga. This assault was more than he could bear and his grip on reality faded.
Naruto stumbled through a darkened corridor. The walls were lined with pipes and the ground flooded to his ankles. Naruto felt like he was half asleep, hypnotized. He took one plodding step after another until he stood before a great barred door. He knew the beast inside was roaring discontent, though the only sound Naruto heard was a static like slowly crashing waves. It wanted to be free. Naruto wanted to free it. His anger pushed him to end Orochimaru's life. He reached for the seal on the door. He would end it all, without Hinata he would just end it all.
As his hand grasped the seal and began to pull, a hand reached out and stopped him. Naruto began to see clearly again and the fog of his other senses faded. He blinked a long blink and looked the owner of the hand in the eye. His eyes look like mine. Naruto thought.
"Naruto." The fourth Hokage smiled warmly.
"D-Dad?" Naruto questioned still shaking the trance like state from his head. "What's happening?"
"Release me you little brat!" The beast behind the bars ordered.
"Quite the loudmouth, isn't he?" Minato maintained his warm smile. "Let's talk somewhere quieter.' He snapped his fingers as he said it and the pair of shinobi were standing in a white void.
"Dad, what's happening?" Naruto inquired.
"The seal on the Kyuubi has been released. you were going to let him out into the world in full physical form." Minato told his son. "I put a piece of myself in the seal when i created it just in case this ever happened."
"I was fighting Orochimaru and he was hurting Hinata-chan." Naruto remembered. "He hurt her just to hurt me."
"He is filled with hate, and sadness." The fourth mused.
"What do i do? If I stay here he will hurt Hinata-chan." Naruto worried.
"Naruto, why do you want to protect this girl?" His father questioned.
"She was kind to me when everyone else was afraid. She believed in me when everyone else wanted me out of the village. She is one of my precious people. I love Hinata-chan." Naruto didn't hesitate to put words to his feelings. "I would do anything to protect my precious people. Hinata, Ino and Shino, Anko-sensei and Shizune-sensei, granny and pervy sage, I will protect them all."
"That is why I put the Nine-tails in you." Minato's eyes held an apology and hope at the same time. "I knew you would be able to handle it. I knew you could grow to help and protect your precious people."
"Granny told me everything. I was mad at first, and then I knew I would have done the same thing." Naruto smiled at his father. "I have a family now, and friends. I was alone for a long time, but Granny told me the truth and helped me. I am the son of the fourth Hokage. I have so much to fight for now."
Minato wrapped his son up in a hug.
"But what do I do about Orochimaru?" Naruto looked up at his father.
"Orochimaru is more like you than you think. You will figure it out." Minato assured his son. "My chakra is fading. I will fix the seal. You will be back in the real world before you know it, but remember I will never stop believing in you. I am so proud of you, Naruto."
With his last words the fourth Hokage twisted his hand over the seal on his son's stomach. The seal was repaired and the chakra specter disappeared. Naruto found himself again in the training area in the underground facility.
Naruto sat astride the chest of the bloodied snake sage. His tailed beast self must have turned the fight in his favor. The sky shone down on the newly recovered Gennin as it seemed the ceiling had been blown apart in the fighting. Naruto gathered himself and assessed the situation in the blink of an eye. He slammed a fist into Orochimaru's face.
"You." a fist came down.
"Were." another blow landed square to the nose.
"Not." Again the fist of the young ninja impacted the face of the elder.
"Alone." A final strike punctuated Naruto's point.
Orochimaru's snake like eyes questioned the boy. Then his wonder was replaced by long practiced anger. Naruto recognized the look and began again to drop punches on the Sannin's face.
"Jiraya cared about you. Granny Tsunade cared about you. Old man Hokage cared about you." Naruto continued his pummeling. "You were a hero to the whole village, you could have been Hokage."
Naruto knew that the strikes were nothing to this veteran ninja. He knew that he could be killed at any time being this close and this reckless with a Legendary Sannin. Naruto did not care. He would get through to is man. He would fight the hate and the anger and the loneliness.
"My parents died too. I started alone too. It was hard and lonely, but then someone believed in me." Naruto kept landing punches even as the strength fading from his arms made them little more than limp flailing. "How can you throw away the people that cared for you? How can you be so cruel and selfish?"
Naruto raised his fist to continue, but it was caught before it touched down. "Enough." Orochimaru said, with none of the intimidating slither of his tongue.
"You are a strange, determined boy." The snake sage commented. "Enough now. You love that girl enough to release that beast. You have something to lose and you risk it all to remind me of the people who believed in me?"
"I will never stop protecting my precious people, and I refuse to believe its so easy for someone to throw their precious people aside." Naruto declared, holding his exhausted body upright.
"You will protect them, I can see that you refuse to fail. I refused to fail for so long, but you do it in a different way...a better way.&" Orochimaru pondered the events of the day.
"Orochimaru-sama," Naruto bowed deeply "the people most important to me in the world cared for you. If you let me, I will care for you too, and I will never go back on my word."
The Sannin was stymied. "Uzumaki-san, I thank you. I will earn this honor." He bowed in return.
Jiraya walked the halls of the Eye of the Storm in the best mood of his life. He had his family back after far too long. He was wandering toward the kitchen to recharge after his physical exertion, and upon rounding the corner was dumbstruck by its contents.
Naruto and Hinata were sitting on one side of the table holding hands quietly. Across from them, sipping tea, was one of the most dangerous shinobi in the world. Jiraya had little time to think so he simply leapt forward to put his body between the vulnerable Gennin and this monstrous threat. While he dove through the air Orochimaru calmly lifted his cup and scooted his chair back a few inches. Jiraya landed on his side on the surface of the table. The table took this abuse for only a fraction of a second before collapsing under the weight.
Jiraya lay in a heap on the floor with the three occupants of what used to be a table looking down at him. When it dawned on him that no attack was forth-coming and the younger ninja didn't seem afraid, he straightened himself into a sitting position and inquired "Naruto, Hinata, what is going on?"
"Ogee-sama," Naruto began. Jiraya noted the formal tone and took the boy as serious. "Orochimaru-sama wishes to join us. He has resources he would like to share, and knowledge that would be valuable to us."
"This will need to be discussed with Tsunade." was all the overwhelmed Sannin could think to say.
Within a few minutes all members of the newly formed village were assembled. Tsunade took her place at the head of the large conference table with Jiraya to her right and Shizune at her left. Anko stood behind the former Hokage, arms crossed, staring daggers at her one-time teacher. Naruto sat at Orochimaru's right side with the snake sage sitting opposite Tsunade. The remaining Gennin sat between Naruto and Jiraya at the elder's insistence.
"What are you doing here?" Tsunade began without ceremony.
"I fought with your young pupil here and I lost. I learned a valuable lesson and have come to apologize and start to make amends for my crimes." Orochimaru stated plainly and sincerely.
"LIAR!" screamed Anko, hurling a kunai.
Orochimaru let the blade strike him. It was true to it's mark and stuck from his chest into the heart. He removed it slowly and handed the blade to Naruto who walked it back to Anko. The Jounin was being held in place by a now standing Jiraya.
"I know you have no reason to trust me." Orochimaru cast his eyes to the table top, none of his customary confidence in his face. "I have done horrible things. I have killed our teacher." He glanced at Jiraya and Tsunade. "I have betrayed your trust." He looked Anko in the eye. "But this boy showed me something I have missed for all these years. I pursued immortality and jutsu at the expense of a lot of people. I was selfish and cruel. I did all these things because I was hurting over my parent's death. I thought nobody cared for me so i did things to push people away. I thought I was alone so I made myself lonely. I thought I could run from death and never have to feel the loss again, but what I was really doing was making myself feel the loss over and over and just prolonging my suffering. Naruto was alone. He had it as hard as i did, but instead of pushing everyone away he reached out and helped people. He helped me, so I don't deserve your trust, or his, but if you give me the chance I will earn it, to repay the exceptional thing this boy has done."
"Naruto, I trust you, even if I don't trust him." Tsunade addressed the unusually focused and calm ninja. "We will vote. Naruto you go first, I will follow your lead."
"I vote that he stays." Naruto nodded his conviction.
"If Naruto believes, than I do too." Tsunade reinforced her grandson.
"I didn't stop wanting this in all these years." Jiraya began. "You were my best friend. I always wanted you to come back to the village and do the right thing. These past years have been hard, hearing about the awful things you've done. I have my doubts, and I think you should be on a very short leash, but I'm with Tsunade. I believe in Naruto more than I doubt you."
"I say we kill him right here, right now." Anko spat. "He is dangerous and manipulative. He will betray us again and we can prevent it."
"I agree with Anko-sensei." Shino added in his usual reserved tone. "The risk is too great."
"He nearly killed my dad and everyone else in the village. I vote no." Ino piped up, squeezing Shino's hand under the table for support.
"I have been with Tsunade-hime for a long time and I trust her judgment. I vote he stays." Shizune added.
"That brings the vote to you Hinata." Tsunade prompted. "You were most recently hurt by Orochimaru. If the vote ties we will expel him, we need a majority to make this right."
"If Naruto says its ok then we should let him stay," The Hyuuga girl hadn't looked up from her lap until now. "but we need to see everything he's doing."
"Spoken like a Byakugan master indeed." Tsunade commented.
With that the meeting was concluded and a full deposition was scheduled for the following day. The band of exiles went to bed wondering what tomorrow would bring, and if this new snake in their lives would bite.
Thank you all for reading. This chapter has been a long time coming, but as promised this story is not abandoned. More soon.